Dear Aspiring Missionary,
Over the last 4.5 years that I have been involved in missions (2 years on staff at a missionary training school and 2 on the field) I have seen many people with the same ambition as yourself – to be a cross-cultural missionary. These men and women have pursed training and sought to build a partnership team. In fact many of them, they have invested years between the two. However, I have seen a good number of them fail to ever make it to the mission field. This was not for lack of effort on their part, rather it was for lack of a good foundation. Let me explain.
While working on staff at a missionary training school I once spent significant time with an aspiring missionary visiting the school who desired to plant churches among the “unreached.” As we conversed over the course of a few days I soon learned that he had never actually stayed in a church long enough to become a member, let along a good member. When I asked him how he intended to plant churches when he had never actually been a member of one he looked at me half shocked and half offended. After all, who was I to challenge his calling?
I wish I could say that this young man went forward from this point to join a local church using his gifts and learning from those with more life and ministry experience. Sadly, however, he did not. Rather, he surrounded himself with those who were much like himself and to this day he is still not planting churches cross-culturally.
I have also seen several people in your place spend years traveling around the country from church to church seeking people and churches to support them in their call to missions. Sadly, at the end of 2-3 years they end their journey tired, disillusioned, and often their families have paid a great price.
Why did they chose this approach to raising financial support? The truth is, they did not. They were forced into it because they were not firmly grounded in a good local church. Thus, instead of building a team partners built on the solid, biblical foundation of their local church, they went out to build supporters built on the cracked foundation of their personal ministry desires.
Remember, even the Apostle Paul and Barnabas were sent out from and returned to a local church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:24-28). Thus, let your calling to the mission field not only spring forth from your own heart but see to it that it is affirmed by those over you and around you in your local church.
Finally, allow me to give you three benefits of being a good member of a local church before going to the mission field:
The local church is the place where biblical discipleship takes place.
Among the great treasures within the local church is the presence of multiple generations not only in physical age but in maturity in the faith. Thus, I would strongly encourage you to surround yourself not just with those from the same stage in life as yourself but also those who have more years in life and in the faith being intentional about a mentoring relationship with them where you glean from their experience and wisdom.
The local church allows you to use your gifts and disciple others.
So I have mentioned being a “good church member” several times. What do I mean by that? Do more than just show up on Sunday mornings and to small group to “be fed.” Take as many ministry opportunities as you can, both big and small, to better understand your giftings and passions. Use those gifts and passions to build up the church operating within the vision of the leadership of the church. Spend time with people in your home and in theirs. Invest in the lives of others and gain as much teaching experience as you possibly can.
Ideally, perhaps you could gain experience as an elder or leader where you are being faced with challenging situations both in the ministry and in the lives of those whom you are leading. This will give you a well of practical ministry experience in which you have to apply your Bible knowledge to the multi-layered challenges of life and ministry. Those whom you serve on the field will want more from you than teaching them what is in the Bible – they will want you to help them apply that teaching to their everyday lives.
The local church will be a great source of encouragement and counsel in times of difficulty.
When you arrive on the field you will face challenges far greater than you ever thought you would face. You will deal with culture shock, culture stress, perhaps inter-rational conflict with other missionaries and/or nationals, confusion on how to hand specific situations in the ministry, as well as days, weeks and months that are just hard. If you have a strong relationship with your local church you will have a trusted and known source of counsel and encouragement to turn to. You will be able to call on them in times of hardship, confusion and rejoicing. In other words, you will have a true partner in ministry.
So, every minute you spend rooting yourself in and loving your local church will pay great dividends to you personally and spiritually once you are working on the field.